UCAS no longer asks all applicants to declare unspent criminal convictions and universities have developed their own policies. For regulated courses - for example medicine, education or social work - applicants are still asked to declare criminal records on the UCAS application. Following this change, Unlock wanted to work with universities to encourage a fair approach to students with criminal records

Unlocking students with criminal records

In October 2019 Unlock completed the first part of our work to improve access to higher education for students with criminal records. Three themes emerged from that work:

  1. Take a 'whole institution approach': Identify what information is necessary – or not – at different stages in the student lifecycle; bringing decision makers together, as well as looking at support for students
  2. Focus on inclusion: ask 'how can we safely include' rather than 'how can we legitimately exclude'. Applicants with criminal records are a diverse group and fir into traditional widening participation groups. Excluding people because of their past is likely to result in exclusion of under-represented groups
  3. Words matter: Policies of all kinds reflect the values and culture of the university. An inclusive culture begins with inclusive language. 

Fair admissions toolkit

We developed a Fair Admissions Toolkit for higher education institutions

Fair chance pledge

Unlock launched the fair chance pledge. Institutions signed up to the pledge are demonstrating their commitment to offering a fair chance to students with a criminal record.

Some of the institutions signed up to the pledge

Find out which institutions are signed up, and how to sign up here.

Next steps

We're now building on the pledge and our fair admissions work. Over the next three years, supported by the Bruno Schroder Trust, Unlock will:

  • Support more universities to offer fair admissions and to build support for students with criminal records on their journey through university
  • Collaborate with universities to include students with criminal records in their access and participation plans
  • Work with the Office for Students and HEPI to gain recognition for students with criminal records as a widening participation group
  • Maintain a database of all universities' admissions policies to help applicants with criminal records make informed decisions

More information

We supported UCAS to produce good practice resources for universities, including the short film below.

Useful links

  1. Our policy page on university admissions brings together a range of useful publications.
  2. We have practical guidance for university admissions professionals
  3. We have details on the workshops we can run for institutions
  4. If you’d like to keep up to date with this area, sign up to our mailing list for universities.
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